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Developing Graduate Teaching Assistants

Postgraduate students who teach are a vital part of Durham’s teaching community, delivering a range of teaching activities from seminars to lab demonstration and tutorials. In this short article, we explore how the University can support GTAs to enhance their teaching practice. 

GTAs must all undertake a minimum of 6 hours of mandatory teacher training before engaging in teaching. This training is provided twice/year (in October and January), tailored to the needs of each faculty and delivered by DCAD. 

Beyond these standard sessions, GTAs may then opt to learn more about teaching, by taking the module Fundamentals of Learning and Teaching in HE DELTA1, which leads, on successful completion, to the award of Associate Fellowship of the HEA. Around 100 GTAs per year engage in this course, with terrific feedback. 

Beyond this training, as someone new teaching, what can you do to enhance your own practice?

Best Practice Tips

  • Know what’s expected of you – make sure you’re aware of what sort of teaching youre going to do and attend any central or departmental training which supports this in advance of the session.  
  • Being nervous inatural – but try not to let this distance you from the students you’ll be interacting with. You were in their position a relatively short time ago, so try to think about things from their angle if possible.  
  • Prepare before class – if you’re worried about getting things wrong, good preparation is vital. If demonstrating an experiment, make sure you’ve done it in advance to check your understanding. Lesson planning can help with your first few sessions until you get used to teaching.  
  • Share tips that helped you as a student – you have a unique perspective in that you recall far more about what helped you than older lecturers. Use this to your students advantage and let them know what helped you in your studies. 
  • Seek quick feedback – give students postit notes and ask them to stick on the door before they leave. This will help you adapt your teaching to be responsive to student needs, without putting them on the spot.  
  • Be friendly, but maintain boundaries – you should be friendly and approachable, but not so much so that students think of you as a friend. You are after all employed to support them in a professional manner. 
  • Talk with other GTAs – have a coffee with other GTAs. Learning from each others practice is a good way to evolve your teaching. If somebody sounds like they’re doing something interesting in the classroom, ask if you can sit in and watch.  

Resources and Further Reading

A useful blog can be found here.

Butcher, C., Davies, C. and Highton, M. (2006) Designing Learning. London, Routledge.

Fry, H., Ketteridge, S. and Marshal, S. (eds.) (2008) A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. 3rd Ed. London, Kogan Page.